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Cinematic: Bruin Box Office


By David Chute

Published Jan 1, 2008 8:00 AM

Denzel Washington is crime boss Frank Lucas in the hit American Gangster, also starring Russell Crowe. Copyright © Photos: (American Gangster) Universal Pictures; (National Treasure) Walt Disney Pictures.

Every year, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television can boast of numerous alumni notables who figure prominently in the creation of holiday-season motion pictures. This year is no different.

TFT has such a stellar track star-making record that it's worth bearing in mind that not everybody who attends goes straight from the classroom to a big studio sound stage. But Chris Eska M.F.A. '03 only needed four years to get his first feature produced. Eska's first feature, August Evening, won the Target Filmmaker Award for Best Narrative Feature, the top prize, at the Los Angeles Film Festival this year. Although Eska's avowed influences are mostly Asian — revered filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu and Edward Yang — the ethnicity of this deeply American story is Hispanic, as a middle-aged undocumented worker and his young daughter-in-law embark on a classic road movie odyssey. The film, produced by Moctesuma Esparza '71, M.F.A. '73, was picked up for distribution by Maya Entertainment and operated immediately after its first LAFF screening. It will open theatrically in early 2008.

Some of the bigger films of late 2007 are likely to still be occupying theater space as you read this, including Ridley Scott's American Gangster, edited by Pietro Scalia '82, M.F.A. '85, and Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, co-starring UCLA Visiting Professor Kevin Smith. Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas in Gangster, a major Harlem mob boss of the 1970s brought down by a dogged NYPD detective (Russell Crowe). Kelly's follow-up to the cult classic Donnie Darko stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as perhaps the oddest couple of the year.

August Rush, co-written by Paul Castro M.F.A. '00, is a drama about an abandoned musical prodigy (Freddie Highmore), raised by a mysterious stranger in a Stetson (Robin Williams), who uses his musical talent to track down his long-lost parents (Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Keri Russell).

In The Walker, one of the true stars of TFT's first generation of graduates, screenwriter-turned-writer/director Paul Schrader M.A. '70 (Taxi Driver, Auto Focus), revisits the premise of one of his most successful films, American Gigolo (1980). With a shift from high-gloss L.A. to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., Woody Harrelson has already won high praise for his performance as a high-priced "escort" on the capital's cocktail party circuit.

One of TFT's hardest-working acting alums, Larry Cedar '76, M.F.A. '78 (Deadwood), co-stars with international treasure-finder Nicolas Cage in the big-budget holiday action sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets, written, like the original, by the husband-and-wife team of Cormac Wibberley '89 and Marianne Wibberley '89, M.F.A. '91. The first film had to do with a treasure supposedly hidden by the founding fathers. This one involves uncovering the secrets behind the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Pathology, which co-stars Deborah Pollack '96 and Milo Ventimiglia, perhaps the fastest-rising star among recent TFT students, is a horror thriller about a group of medical students who compete to see who can devise the plan for the most perfect murder. "Great if you don't mind gore," according to one online commentator.



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